How to Plant, Grow, and Care For Impatiens in Your Garden
If you’re thinking of planting flowers in your garden this year, impatiens plants are a great addition! Impatiens are one of the most popular annual flowers due to their brightly colored blooms, low maintenance, and ability to thrive in shady areas. In this article, gardening expert and suburban homesteader, Merideth Cohrs, walks you through every step needed to successfully plant, grow, and care for impatiens.
Back in my 20s when I knew nothing about plants or gardening, impatiens were the very first flowering plant I chose to try and grow. Our front deck had hooks for hanging baskets and I wanted something that was colorful but easy to care for. I remember my mother-in-law telling me that impatiens were great starter plants and that I could probably keep them alive without too much trouble. She was right, thankfully… In that first year, I consistently forgot to water my plants, and they would look terribly sad and droopy after a few days of neglect.
But magically, they bounced back overnight with just a little water! I had a few pots on the ground as well, and deer would eat all the blooms overnight. The remaining foliage looked so sad that I was sure the plant was done for. Instead, after just a few days, new blooms had started to appear and after another week, it was like nothing had happened!
I share all of this simply to let you know that even the most novice gardener can handle this gorgeous plant. If I couldn’t kill mine in my mid-20s, I promise you’ll be just fine! If I could handle them then, you can certainly can handle them now. In this guide, you’ll learn all about how to plant, grow, and care for impatiens flowers!
- 1 Impatiens Plant Overview
- 2 A Note About Impatiens
- 3 Plant History
- 4 Cultivation
- 5 Propagation
- 6 Planting
- 7 How to Grow
- 8 Varieties
- 9 Pests
- 10 Diseases
- 11 Plant Uses
- 12 Frequently Asked Questions
- 13 Final Thoughts
Impatiens Plant Overview
Plant Type Tender Perennial, Annual
Species More Than 1,000
Native Area Africa, Eurasia, New Guinea
Hardiness Zone USDA 10-11
Watering Requirements Moderate
Season Spring and Summer
Exposure Part Shade to Full Shade
Maturity Date Annual
Growth Rate Slow
Plant Spacing 6-12 inches
Height 10-36 inches
Colors Pink, Purple, White, Red
Pests Aphids, Spider Mites, Deer
Diseases Downy Mildew, Root Rot
Plant With Almost Anything
Don’t Plant With Virtually No Limitations
Soil Type Rich, Well-draining
A Note About Impatiens
Odds are good, actually, that if you’ve ever planted flowers outside, impatiens have been part of the mix. It’s hard to go to a nursery or garden center and pass over the prolific, colorful blooms. You’ll often find hanging baskets featuring flowers of multiple colors.
Or, if you prefer to plant your own containers, hanging baskets, or gardening beds, there are seed flats that allow you to mix and match your favorite colors. Color favorites include white, red, pink, violet, coral, purple, and yellow. Now, with multiple varieties of impatiens, you can feature these beautiful plants in virtually any part of your garden. This includes full shade to partial sun.
With so many wonderful colors and plant varieties available, you’re sure to find the perfect mix to add to your garden. Impatiens have long been a shade garden standard. These easy plants will add colorful joy to your space all summer long.
The genus Impatiens includes more than 1,000 flowering plant species, which are widely grown across the tropics and North America. Common names of these plants include impatiens, touch-me-not, snapweed, busy Lizzie, and balsam. The genus name was derived from the term ‘impatient’, referring to how forcefully the flowering seed pods release their seeds.
Native to eastern Africa from Kenya to Mozambique, Standard impatiens – the most common variety – was originally named Impatiens sultanii after the Sultan of Zanzibar. After Europeans came to the continent, the name was changed to Impatiens walleriana. This was to honor Englishman Horace Waller who made a name for himself as an anti-slavery activist and African explorer. But, when it comes to the modern plant we know and love, credit is resoundingly given to American horticulturist, Claude Hope.
It was Hope who began improving upon the original, somewhat gangly plant. It was then developed into the compact, shade-loving variety we are now familiar with. Almost all varieties of Impatiens walleriana on the market today are descendants of Hope’s hybrids.
Problems arose with Standard impatiens in the early 2000s, however, when the plant suffered widespread plaques of downy mildew. This incurable disease was so pervasive, most nurseries had to stop growing the plant. This caused the once prolific impatiens to virtually disappear from the market. Thankfully, the New Guinea variety (Impatiens hawkeri) was found to be more resistant to downy mildew. At that point, this variety started to take over for its standard cousin.
Native to the island of New Guinea in the South Pacific, New Guinea impatiens were brought to the US for cultivation in the 1970s by Harold Winters and JJ Higgins. The plant’s natural disease resistance also allowed for the eventual development of New Guinea–Standard hybrids. As a result, we’re now able to enjoy multiple varieties of impatiens with unique qualities and varying tolerances for shade and sun.
Even with prolonged concerns over downy mildew, impatiens plants continue to grace home gardens, parks, walking paths, and commercial landscaping. They are well known for their abundant and colorful blooms. The Standard impatiens is one of the few flowering plants that grow best in full shade condition. Its New Guinea cousin fares better in a partial sun environment.
In the home garden, impatiens plants are most often found in hanging pots or ornamental containers. This is typically how they are presented in local nurseries and garden centers.
Impatiens are often purchased by the home gardener at nurseries and garden centers in the spring. But if you are interested in saving a little money, you can look at starting your plants from seed or from cuttings.
Propagation from cuttings is a more common approach for impatiens since it can take quite some time for seeds to germinate and grow enough for transplant. The good news is that impatiens are propagated easily this way and can be done so either in soil or in water.
Propagation From Cuttings in Soil
To get started, choose a non-flowering stem on your impatiens plant (you can purchase a mature plant from your local nursery or use an existing plant in your garden) with at least two to three sets of leaves. Make a cut just below one of those leaf sets leaving you a 3-4 inch long cutting. Then place directly into trays filled with potting soil.
Personally, I love using a sterile seed starting mix for cuttings. This mix ss designed for quick germination and vigorous seedling growth. What works well for seeds and seedlings, works well for cuttings. However, any potting mix will work fine.
Ensure your soil or seed starting mix is moist and then make a 2-inch hole with your finger or a pencil. Impatiens stems are rather delicate and can break, so you don’t want to jam them directly into the soil. If there are leaves below the soil line, pinch those off gently with your fingers and then cover the stem with soil.
Water these lightly again and then set under grow lights or in an area with good, but indirect light. You’ll want to keep the soil moist but take care not to overwater or you will see poor root growth.
It usually takes several weeks to a month for impatiens rooting to take place. You can easily check on the root growth if you’re using transplant trays or small pots, but your cutting is likely ready once you see new growth forming.
Don’t be in a hurry to transplant your cutting! Smaller cuttings can die easily when transplanted even if they have rooted, so let your little plants fill out a bit first. However, once they are ready, the plants can be transplanted to your desired location and will grow to maturity quickly.
Propagation From Cuttings in Water
To get started, take a cutting in the same way described above. Fill a container (a large glass or mason jar is ideal for this) with water almost to the top. If you like, you can cover it with plastic wrap and poke a small hole the size of the stem in the center. This will allow the cutting to float easily and keep the stem consistently submerged in the water.
As mentioned above, remove any leaves that will be below the waterline and then place your cutting into the container. Place in a bright location out of direct sunlight and get ready to watch the roots grow!
You’ll want to change the water in your container every 1-2 days to keep it fresh and clean. If using the plastic topping, simply peel it up a bit to allow you to dump out the old water and add the fresh.
Once enough rooting has taken place, you can move them carefully into the ground, a container, or a hanging pot. Ideally, you will want to keep the new cutting in a shady area. This will allow the plant to mature a bit before exposing it to too much sunlight.
Propagation From Seeds
Growing impatiens from seed is a slow process, but a simple one. Keep in mind that while Standard impatiens grow easily from seed, New Guinea varieties do not, and are more commonly propagated through cuttings.
Most gardeners purchase seeds directly from a garden center or nursery. Sometimes, you can save seeds from other types of plants you’ve grown, especially if they are an heirloom variety.
Sadly, you can’t do this with impatiens since they have all been hybridized. This means they have been carefully bred to become disease-resistant, shade tolerant, and to produce a certain color – or even a mix of colors – blooms.
Hybridized plants unfortunately do not produce a viable seed (meaning they won’t germinate), or they produce a seed that reverts back to one of the original plants used to create the hybrid. Either way, you will be most successful growing impatiens from seed if you purchase them.
Aim to start your seeds about 3 months before the last spring frost in your area. Impatiens can take up to 21 days to germinate. Do not be concerned if things seem to be taking a while.
When germinating seeds, I like to use a self-watering seed starting tray. But, you can really use any small container to do this. I have seen people use containers ranging from basic plastic seed trays to biodegradable peat pots to coconut coir pots to reused Styrofoam cups!
Once you have chosen your container, fill each seed cell with a seed starting mix (I prefer a sterile seed starter) leaving roughly ½ inch space between the top of the soil and the top of the container. Moisten the soil and then gently compress it with your fingers.
You can add a little more soil to the cell if there is too much space at the top after you do this. Place 2-3 seeds on the top of the moist soil and sprinkle a light layer of seed starting mix over them.
Lightly mist the top of the soil with a spray bottle filled with clean water. You do not want to pour water over the top of newly placed seeds since it can wash them away or force them too far under the soil.
Cover your seeds with a plastic top to create a greenhouse-like environment.
I like to use a plant heating mat when germinating seeds, but this is totally optional. If you do use a heating mat, place it directly under your seed starting tray. This allows the water and soil to maintain the ideal temperature for germination and successful seedling growth.
Once your seeds have sprouted, remove the plastic covering and place them under grow lights. If you don’t have grow lights, aim for a well-lit window that gets good but indirect light all day. Keep in mind that seedlings need 12-16 hours of light a day to maximize their growth.
After your seedlings have two sets of leaves, you may need to thin out extra seedlings. This is always a bit of an emotional exercise, but it’s a necessary one! If a seed cell has more than one seedling growing in it, choose the healthier plant and thin out the others. To do this, get a pair of scissors and cut the plant out at the soil line. Do not try to pull it out since that can affect the root system of the plant you will be keeping.
Once your seedling has 2-3 sets of true leaves, you can transplant them into a slightly larger container. If you have chosen something a little bigger like a peat pot or coir pot, you can likely leave it alone until you’re ready to plant it in its final location.
Before planting outside, you’ll want to harden off your seedlings. This is a simple, but necessary process that allows your little plants to acclimatize to heat, wind, and sun.
Start by setting them out in a protected shady area for about an hour. The next day, do the same thing for several hours. The day after, you can let them experience a little bit of sun, but not too much!
The idea of hardening off is to expose your sheltered seedlings to the real world in manageable chunks so they can get strong enough to handle day-to-day weather. Once you have hardened off your seedlings for about a week, you can plant them in their final location and enjoy them all season.
Fully grown impatiens plants are available at most nurseries or garden centers. You’ll typically find these planted in hanging baskets or ornate pots. You can also purchase flats of seedlings or simply transplant your own propagated cuttings once they’re mature enough. Most garden centers will have a decent selection of varieties, plant sizes, and bloom colors, so the options are quite large.
When transplanting a mature impatiens plant, dig a hole approximately twice as large as the root ball (if using a container or hanging basket, make sure it’s large enough to allow for this) and place it gently at the bottom. You ideally want the crown of the plant (where the plant stem meets the roots) to be 1-2 inches below the surface.
Cover the root ball with soil and gently press down with your fingers. Add mulch around the base of the plant to help it retain moisture and then water deeply. It’s a good rule of thumb to water daily just after transplanting to help the roots expand into the new soil.
If you have purchased seed flats or you’re planting propagated cuttings, you get to make some decisions! If you’d like to encourage your impatiens plants to grow taller, space them close together, about 6 inches apart. This is an ideal placement for a container or hanging basket. If you’d like to use them more as a ground cover or border in a flower bed, plant them further apart, about 10-12 inches.
How to Grow
Although impatiens are one of the easiest flowers to grow in your garden, there are a few things you need to plan for. You’ll need to set your plant up for success with the right amount of light, water, and ideal soil conditions. This will determine whether your impatiens thrive or just survive.
Let’s take a look at how to grow healthy impatiens and how to maximize their prolific and gorgeous blooms.
One of the primary virtues of impatiens is their ability to thrive in shady locations. This is a huge boon for gardeners since it allows us to grow plants with vibrantly colored blooms in areas that might otherwise remain bare. This can include areas in your garden that are shaded by a building, under large shady trees, or mixed in with taller plants for a splash of color.
While Standard impatiens are best known as a shade-loving plant, its New Guinea cousin can tolerate anything from a partly sunny location to one with full sun. If you do opt for a sun-loving variety like the Sunpatiens, try to plant it in an area that gets morning sun rather than the intense afternoon sun.
Impatiens are not drought tolerant, so they will need to be watered regularly during dry periods to keep the soil consistently moist. Once planted, impatiens need roughly 2 inches of water a week. When temperatures average consistently above 80 degrees, you will likely want to double that to 4 inches per week.
If you find this type of watering guide to be somewhat confusing, don’t worry! Impatiens make it easy to learn how to ‘water by feel’. This plant is fairly water-hungry, so the idea is to simply not let the soil dry out.
This is especially true in containers or hanging pots where you’ll likely need to water every day (especially during hot, dry weather). To help your soil retain moisture, you can amend the soil with organic matter and apply a layer of mulch when planting.
A tell-tale sign that your plant needs more water is that the leaves will wilt somewhat alarmingly. Don’t let this scare you! Impatiens are one of the most forgiving plants I have worked with and will bounce back quickly once you water them again.
Since we know that the plant needs a lot of water, it’s important that your soil provides sufficient drainage. Good drainage in your soil will prevent root rot, which can happen if excess water has nowhere to go.
If you are planting impatiens in a container or hanging pot, your job is fairly easy. Simply choose a well-draining potting soil and prepare to water a small amount each day. If your plants are in the ground, you’ll need to understand what type of soil you naturally have.
Sandy soil will naturally drain, dry out quicker, and require more frequent watering. You can choose to amend sandy soil with rich, loamy, organic material. This addition will not only improve the nutrients your plant receives, but it will also allow the soil to retain more moisture.
If you struggle with heavy, clay soil as I do, you may need to add amendments to improve drainage. Coconut coir is an excellent choice for this since it improves airflow even when wet, lightens heavy clay, and aids in more even moisture retention.
Climate and Temperature
Although one of the most low-maintenance flowering plants there is, impatiens are a little fussy when it comes to temperature. They will wilt and suffer if temperatures are too hot, yet they cannot be planted outside until temperatures are warm enough. Think of impatiens as a ‘goldilocks plant’ – temperatures need to be just right.
To plant impatiens outside, soil temperatures must reach 60 degrees. It’s easy to check this with a soil thermometer, although for many, the traditional time for planting is Memorial Day. A good rule of thumb is that once nighttime temperatures are consistently in the 60s, your soil should warm enough.
If you are starting impatiens from seed, you’ll need to do so indoors about 3 months prior to planting, or simply buy seedlings from your local nursery for transplant.
Once planted, it’s important to know that impatiens are sensitive to heat and too much direct sun. Even sun-loving New Guinea varieties can wilt if exposed to strong afternoon summer sun, which is why it’s better to plant these in areas that receive morning sun instead.
Your plants may wilt a bit during the hottest months even if you are watering adequately. Thankfully, impatiens bounce back quickly once cooler nighttime temperatures arrive. Impatiens will thrive in both a dry and humid climate.
Impatiens will flower frequently if they are regularly fertilized. To set your plant up for success, be sure to apply compost or a slow-release granular fertilizer when transplanting into the ground, a container, or a hanging basket.
Once your plant is established, you can use a liquid fertilizer every two weeks throughout spring and summer. Alternatively, you can add a second round of slow-release fertilizer halfway through summer.
Whether liquid or granular, ensure your choice of fertilizer is formulated for flowering plants. This type will naturally be lower in nitrogen, which will encourage blooms rather than increased foliage growth.
Impatiens are honestly one of the lowest maintenance flowering plants I have ever grown. Basically, if you plant them in an area with the correct amount of sun (shade, partial sun, etc), keep them watered, and keep the deer away from them, you’re golden! We’ve already talked about most of these things, so let’s focus on maximizing blooms.
Unlike many flowering plants, you don’t need to deadhead your impatiens. They are a ‘self-cleaning’ plant that removes old blooms themselves, allowing new blooms to form.
If your plant starts looking leggy late in the summer, you can use scissors or shears to trim off the top 1/3 of the plant’s vegetation. This will promote the emergence of new blooms and improve the overall appearance of the plants.
If deer munch on your flowers (they do seem to love this flower!), don’t worry too much. It achieves much of the same result as manually pruning the plant, so you’ll have many more flowers to look forward to!
There are more than 1,000 species of impatiens, but the types you will come across in your local nursery commonly fall within two primary categories: Standard and New Guinea impatiens.
Impatiens walleriana – also known as busy Lizzie or balsam – was one of the most common bedding plants in the world until they were hit hard by downy mildew. In addition to seeing them in private gardens, you would find these colorful blooms in parks, business landscaping, and urban walkways.
Standard impatiens may be somewhat difficult to find today since mildew-resistant varieties are still being developed. Your best selection will likely be found with the ‘Imara XDR’ or the ‘Beacon’ varieties. It may be worth a quick call ahead to your local nursery to see if these are available.
Developed in 2019, the Imara XDR is a disease-resistant impatiens that comes in a wide variety of colors – white, red, pink, violet, coral, purple, and yellow. Like all Standard impatiens before, they will grow best in full or partial shade. The Beacon is another variety developed in 2020 to be highly resistant to downy mildew. It is derived from the Super Elfin line, which reaches a mature height of just 10 inches.
New Guinea Impatiens
Impatiens hawkeri – also known as sun impatiens due to its higher tolerance for sunlight – is a variety that is typically taller and produces larger, more vibrant blooms than its Standard cousin. Its leaves are also quite beautiful and can be seen in dark green, purple, and even bronze.
These plants have become more popular of late since they are naturally resistant to downy mildew, which plagued the Standard impatiens for several years. The Celebration series is the most popular New Guinea variety and grows to about 16 inches.
If you do plant this variety in partial to full sun, be aware that they will be even more water-hungry than the Standard impatiens. New Guineas grow best where they will receive morning sun and afternoon shade. Eastern exposure is ideal.
Interspecific Impatiens (Standard and New Guinea Hybrids)
One of the positive things that came from the downy mildew blight was the creation of Standard and New Guinea hybrids. This has allowed for some interesting new features that will continue to elevate impatiens to popularity.
The Bounce series, for instance, thrives in both sun and shade and ‘bounces’ back quickly from wilting. The Sunpatiens series thrives in partial shade to full sun and grows to a mature height of 18-42 inches.
With so many choices, it is no surprise that impatiens have been, and continue to be, one of the most popular flowers for home gardeners and landscapers alike. And with the addition of the hybrid varieties, you can truly enjoy these beautiful flowering plants in any part of your garden!
Other than deer, I haven’t experienced too many pests that seem to bother my impatiens, but the main bugs to keep an eye out for are spider mites and aphids. These pests are all easy to control and eradicate so don’t worry if you see them in your plant.
Spider mites hate cold water and will leave quickly if sprayed directly with ice water. The easiest thing to do is keep a spray bottle in the refrigerator and mist the leaves of your plants once or twice a day until the mites are all gone. You can also aim to prevent spider mites by companion planting aromatic herbs – like garlic, rosemary, or chamomile – near your impatiens.
Aphids seem to find their way into every garden, and they can become quite overwhelming if you don’t address them early. Although you can use Neem oil, insecticidal soaps, and horticultural oils against aphids, I have found the most effective tool to be a hard stream of water from the hose. If you spray aphids off leaves, they have a very hard time finding their way back to the plant. Just make sure to not forget the underside of the leaves – aphids love to hide there.
Companion planting can also be effective at keeping aphids away. They are especially attracted to mustard and nasturtium (which has the added benefit of being another beautiful flower!) and will act as ‘trap plants’ for the pests.
If you have planted your impatiens as part of a pollinator garden, you likely won’t have any problems with these pests. Ladybugs and parasitic wasps love to eat aphids and will keep them from becoming problematic.
As I have mentioned several times in this article, impatiens were hit hard by downy mildew in the early 2000s, decimating much of the breeding stock in commercial nurseries. This disease is caused by a pathogen called Plasmopara obducens, and it virtually stopped the commercial sale of impatiens for more than a decade. It was only recently in 2019 that Standard impatiens began to make a comeback with the development of mildew-resistant hybrids.
Aside from downy mildew, impatiens can be affected by fungal blights and root rot. These problems are more likely in humid, overly wet conditions, or when plants are crowded too closely together.
Powdery mildew (including downy mildew) will present as wilting yellow leaves with white spores. If you see that your plant has been affected by this, remove it immediately and do not compost.
You can largely prevent powdery mildew in two ways: ensuring your plants have proper air circulation, and that the leaves stay dry during watering. A common mistake of the new gardener is to water the leaves and not the soil. You want to do just the opposite of this. Place your hose or nozzle close to the soil itself and water under and around the plant. A layer of mulch will also help in preventing water splash back onto the bottom of the leaves.
Root Rot is also common in impatiens and is of concern if your plant begins to exhibit wilted leaves and brown lesions on the stem below the soil line. To prevent this, do not overwater and ensure your soil is well-draining.
Impatiens have many uses in the garden and can add beautiful splashes of color in hanging baskets, ornamental pots, under trees, along walkways, and even as ground cover. One of the most versatile landscaping plants, impatiens can be enjoyed in full shade to full sun depending on the variety you choose.
Standard impatiens flowers are edible and can be quite sweet. They are often used as a garnish for salads or floated in cocktails. Anecdotally, some varieties of impatiens have been used as herbal remedies for the treatment of bee stings, insect bites, and poison ivy.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between Standard and New Guinea impatiens?
New Guinea impatiens are notably larger, tolerate more sun, and are considered a showier plant for container gardens. The most important distinction, however, is its resistance to downy mildew.
Are there impatiens that are resistant to downy mildew?
Yes! New Guinea varieties are naturally resistant as well as the newly developed Standard-New Guinea hybrids.
Can impatiens grow indoors?
Yes! Although most gardeners think of impatiens as outdoor plants, they can do quite well indoors. You can actually overwinter your mature plant indoors and then move it back outside in the spring. You’ll need to ensure your impatiens get some direct morning light indoors, so placing it by a well-lit east-facing window is a great option.
Do impatiens come back year after year?
Although impatiens are technically perennials, they act as a tender annual due to their inability to tolerate frost. Impatiens plants can be brought indoors and easily grown throughout the winter months and set outside again in the spring.
What are alternatives to impatiens?
If you are concerned about downy mildew or your local nursery isn’t carrying a good selection of impatiens, you can turn to other reliable shade-tolerant plants. Wax begonias or ivy geraniums are good options.
I firmly believe that every garden will benefit from the inclusion of impatiens. The sheer variety of flower colors, leaf colors, height, and sun tolerance allows a gardener to design their perfect space. Even if you only have room for a single hanging pot or balcony flower box, impatiens will delight you with blooms until your first frost.
Now that you have read how to plant, grow, and care for impatiens, you’re well-positioned to enjoy this beautiful flowering plant year after year.